Saturday, March 07, 2009

Another Undeserved Blessing

"For when I am weak, then I am strong."  2 Cor 12: 10b (ESV)

I was humbled in a major way yesterday by God who turned a situation I was frustrated about into a productive one.

I was on the last leg of a two-week, six-destination business trip and was very exhausted already.  I was scheduled to train a group of legal researchers and lawyers in a city I had not known existed until about last month.  Literally in the middle of nowhere.  To make matters worse, I was promised a ride from my hotel to the venue, but at the last minute, was told that they could not find an available vehicle for me, and I had to take the bus.

This would not have been a major problem, for I was going to travel with two male co-workers, if not for the following complications:

1.  I was not a morning person.  And I had to get up at 4:30 a.m. for this one.  Reminding myself to be a professional, I did get to the bus station before sunrise.  Had my prayer time and my shower, and surprised even myself.  I could have gotten over it and been a trooper, but...

2.  I did not have time to drink coffee or have breakfast.  Without coffee, I was usually a walking morning grouch.  The hotel packed my breakfast but it was a heavy meal requiring utensils, and I did not have a proper place to enjoy it, so it remained uneaten the whole day.

3.  My companions were late because the caretaker of our office building was late and they could not get our training materials on time.

4.  I was wearing a suit at 5:30 a.m. in an unfamiliar bus station, and people were crowding around me either to inquire about my destination or offer their products.  I shook my head at people for almost an hour until my officemates came.

5.  I glared at them and fumed silently because I knew we were going to be late for the 8am training.  That to my mind would badly reflect on our company, and would ruin my condition to conduct the training powerfully.  I put on my dark glasses, plugged my iPod earphones, and ignored them for the most part of the ride.  Very mature, I know, but I conserved my energy for the training, and planned to express my disappointment later.

6.  We got the slowest bus driver on that part of the planet.  He stopped the bus for every man, chicken, and duck on the road.  We passed by rough roads and farm lands.  I failed to appreciate the tall coconut trees, the bananas wrapped in plastic, and the mangroves that were visible from the highway.  My arms were crossed and I, even crosser.

So when we got to the venue, 30 minutes late, it was a painful effort to smile.  Friendly participants approached me even before training started, and I forced myself to engage in small talk.  We were led to the most modern computer room I had ever seen in a government office.  I could not believe that it was sitting there, all along, hidden behind the mangroves, the bananas, the ducks, and the coconuts.

I wanted to start with training right away, but unknown to me, the host office prepared a program.  They had an emcee, who introduced the participant who would lead the Invocation.  It was a good Opening Prayer, until the IT person played the music for the National Anthem.  There was no time to skip the first part of the CD, so we had another opening prayer, the usual one that their office played.  I found myself praying harder the second time, begging God to take over, for I was out of energy and cheer for what I was about to do.

When the emcee took the mic, she was so passionate and lively that she caught everyone's attention.  It was a new Training Center and she said we were the first users and I, the first speaker.  I felt the pressure mounting and walked to the back of the room to calm my nerves.

Then she summarized my four-page resume.  It would have been enough to be introduced by my position in the company, but no, she started with:  "This speaker is a woman of many talents."

I wanted the earth to swallow me but controlled my facial expression.  All I could think of was that we were already running late and the introduction was taking too long.

But it was no ordinary introduction.  I've been to programs where the organizers just rattled off this and that accomplishment of the guest speaker to the utter boredom of the audience.  This particular emcee, however, was so gifted, and into what she was doing, that she made me sound like somebody else.  I immediately regretted not editing the CV that was faxed to their office.  I should have just put a one-sentence introduction, but did not have time to do so.

Instead, every little thing that I put there to impress would-be employers, was read.  Even those that had nothing to do with legal research.  I felt myself shrinking as each word was said.  It was one embarrassing moment, because the participants believed everything.  I could not do anything.  I leaned helplessly against the wall and prayed for the introduction to end.  She made glowing remarks that worsened my pain.  Every career decision I had made was revealed to the participants; every group I joined; every new thing I ventured into.  My resume did not indicate the success of each endeavor; it simply listed what I had attempted to do in my life.  The audience, for that was what they were in the hands of the expert emcee, was made to believe that I was actually good at anything.   I cannot describe accurately how it felt, a mixture of humiliation and regret at my laziness to submit a proper introduction.

After fifteen (15) minutes, I was ready to die, but had to take the microphone and start the training.  I told them that it was a padded resume, and I would not admit which were actually true, and if the training did not go well or they fell asleep, I would probably resort to singing and dancing to keep them entertained.  

What caused me misery turned out to be a blessing, however, for anything I said after that became easy for them to absorb.  My stomach was grumbling, my head was spinning, and my body was complaining for lack of sleep and coffee, but they were a cooperative group of training participants.  The best in the world.  They listened and responded.  They were able to grasp the concepts and nail the exercises.  I could not believe it!

The prayer worked.  God indeed turned my mourning into dancing once again.  The emcee announced a break and even served me food.  I tried not to devour the hamburger, and managed to have a real conversation with the participants while having the snack break, until I remembered it was a Friday and none of us abstained from meat.  Having heard that my career objective was to be a Christian lawyer, those at my table put down their burgers after I remembered it was a Friday.  I took it back, and said, there were exceptions to the abstinence (and I wanted to check the authority for this one), and for medical reasons Catholics were exempted from fasting.  I silently prayed and promised the Lord I would make up for my meaty snack by doing an act of charity, but I was so hungry and there was no food in sight.  I needed food in order to continue with the training... And while I was discussing these with the participants, they said my being a lawyer showed even in my relationship with God and my attitude towards Lent.  I told you they were a perceptive lot.

The rest of the morning went on smoothly and we were able to cover everything before lunch.  They were all too happy to have the afternoon off.  I really do not know how I could have gone through that training session if not for God's blessing and provision.  Who knew that what was waiting for me were gracious people, intelligent participants, high-tech computers, and Jollibee hamburgers?

I freshened up to prepare for the long bus ride back to our branch office.  When I returned to the lobby, my officemates told me that we were going to join a van used for some delegates, and we did not have to take the bumpy bus ride anymore.  I wanted to cry, but the heavens were already crying due to rain.  I braved the rain going to the van, and the people who were already inside fussed over me.  I was referred to as "the speaker".  It felt surreal.

If only they knew what was going on in my head, heart, and body right before the program started.  If only they knew how unprepared I was, how scared that they would learn nothing new, how fearful that my coffee-deprived mood would ruin everything.  But thanks to the opening prayer, which we did twice, and to the people who were instruments of God's grace, blessings still poured that morning on all of us.  

Thank you Lord for once again showing me that you always go before me, and that you are taking me to places I have never imagined.  You deserve all the praise, honor, and glory.  You are a generous and glorious God.

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